Carmen Gandia Medina doesn’t own a single piece of clothing with buttons – not one work shirt or big woolly cardigan or button-up jacket. Nothing. And she’s all but banned her friends from wearing buttons, too, at least whenever they plan on hanging out with her.
“If you wear a shirt with buttons and we go out to dinner together, I won’t be able to eat. Even just seeing the buttons makes me anxious,” Carmen, 24, says. “If I touch a button, I have to wash my hands immediately. Always. If not, it’s like the feeling stays there in my hand.”
Which seems pretty bloody weird, until you take a closer look at your smartphone. Notice how it doesn’t have any buttons? You can thank Steve Jobs for that. Turns out the Apple co-founder had koumpounophobia too, a fear of buttons that very likely played a major role in his obsession with touchscreens (and black turtlenecks).
The phobia derives its name from koumpouno, the Greek word for button. The jury’s still out on exactly why so many people apparently find buttons so disgusting, but curiously the reaction tends only to apply to plastic buttons – the metal kind you might find on a pair of jeans is usually a-okay.
“If you wear a shirt with buttons and we go out to dinner together, I won’t be able to eat. Even just seeing the buttons makes me anxious.”
“The metal ones don’t bother me,” Carmen agrees. “But ever since I was little, buttons have just completely grossed me out – the ones with four holes and thread in the middle. I think it’s something to do with the plastic and the thread. The buttons make me sick, so therefore the threads make me sick, too. A friend of mine reckons he’ll start a campaign: ‘Buttons, no! Zippers, yes!’”
Carmen’s developed little mechanisms to cope in a world of ubiquitous buttons. She’ll look at the floor on the bus or metro to avoid accidentally laying eyes on an offending button. Boyfriends quickly realise they’ll be treated less than warmly if they dare to wear them. And, of course, she avoids buttons like the plague when clothes shopping.
Friends used to laugh about Carmen’s strange fear, so she went googling one day and unearthed a Facebook group where fellow koumpounophobes share the horror of accidentally stumbling across buttons in everyday life. “People there freak out because you realise there’s more people like you, that you’re not the only one. But I still haven’t met anyone in person with the same phobia and I’d really like to. Because it’s just so strange.”
Still, Carmen has absolutely no idea why buttons creep her out so much – and actually, it’s not just buttons. “Wool disgusts me, and threads. Small coins, like one cent, also make me feel weird, which must be because they have the same small shape of a button. And small earrings. Everything that’s super small makes me a little bit sick.”
+ + +